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Anatomy of a Street (Part 3)

To get back to Paul and Faith Davies and the McKenzie sisters, I’ll relate a story as told by Faith to my wife Naomi. The Davies wanted to entertain the sisters and invited them over for cocktails. Faith warned Paul that these were elderly ladies and to make their drinks very weak. Paul mixed the cocktails with a minimum of bourbon and served them. One sister barely touched her cocktail and Faith apologized, feeling that she had offended them by serving liquor. She offered to get the sisters a non-alcoholic drink to which one of the sisters replied, “Oh, please do—but this time put some whiskey in it.” Faith had not realized that the sisters were of Scottish heritage!

612 Morse Street is where I have lived since 1972. In 1962, author Ken Kesey hid from the law here but, fortunately, his stay was short. The next home to the north, 616 Morse, was owned by prominent attorney Robert Morgan and is where bankruptcy judge Marilyn Morgan grew up. Later occupants included Lawrence Lockley, PhD and Naomi Lockley. Dr. Lockley started the business doctoral program at Santa Clara University. Next to them, at 618, was the home of the Naas family who ran the Naas Candy Factory in Santa Clara for many years.

617 Morse is where Mr. and Mrs. Mike Ruth lived. They were only there for a short time, however. Mike Ruth advertised himself as a private detective. Late one night, the gumshoe heard the doorbell ring and he answered it, but left the safety chain attached. An arm reached in around the chain and stabbed Ruth. Fortunately, it was superficial, and the Ruth’s soon left on a one-way trip to Honolulu. That was the last we heard of Mike Ruth, Private Eye.

Further north at 838 Morse, next door to where the lion once roamed, is the beautiful half-timbered home where architect Pierre Prodis and his wife Carol live. Their home is designated a City Historic Landmark and it was designed by Lewis Mulgart, the architect of the old De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park (now demolished).

There are many stories about houses and places in the nearby area, and I will write about some of these in future columns. The Lion family was the subject of one of my recent columns about the slain paper lion outside their store. Others I will tell you about are the Hart family, Boss Charlie Bigley, the first chartered university in California (no, not Santa Clara), and Jacob Rich who started the first horse-car railway. I will also tell you why the Alameda was and still is an important street.

Anatomy of a Street (Part 2)

Down on the corner of Morse and Fremont lived Fred Reynolds. Fred was a railroad engineer for the South Pacific Coast Railroad that ran from the ferry slip at Alameda to San Jose, and continued on to Los Gatos, Wrights Station and Santa Cruz. Originally a narrow gauge railroad, it was later absorbed by the Southern Pacific Railroad. Fred Reynolds was the engineer one day when the train approached the empty ferry slip in Alameda. The brakes failed and he drove the engine into San Francisco Bay. Fortunately, no lives were lost. Fred also had a problem at his home at 603 Morse. He was driving his auto into the garage, something again failed and he drove right through the back wall. Knowledgeable neighbors gave Fred great leeway on the road.

At 633 Morse is a home that has been remodeled several times. It was originally the Palace Saloon and Hotel, located at what is now the entrance to Diridon Station. The saloon was opened for business in 1900; the second floor was a brothel, when brothels were popular in old-time San Jose. The second floor was moved to the site at 633 Morse and remodeled and is now a million-dollar-plus family home.

Directly across the street from the Reynolds home is a palatial house on the corner of Morse and Fremont (the mailing address is 1181 Fremont), built by the McKenzie sisters and rented to Paul and Faith Davies while the Davies’ home was being built on Park Avenue. Faith Davies was the daughter of Frank Crummy, President of the Bean Spray and Pump Company. Faith’s husband, Paul, was a banker who put together the merger between Bean and another local company that created the Food Machinery Company, one of the fifty largest corporations in the United States at the time.

The McKenzie sisters were the daughters of Johnny McKenzie, the boss of bosses in San Jose at the turn of the 20th century. Johnny was a participant in a local story that seems relevant at the moment, so I am going to tell it to conclude this week’s column.

Ron Gonzales isn’t the first San Jose mayor to refuse to give up his office. It was a very close election in 1902, when the new mayor-elect, George D. Worswick, succeeded the incumbent, Charles J. Martin, who had been under the control of McKenzie and the other bosses. The election result was close: 2442 votes for Worswick— backed by the San Jose Mercury owners, the Hayes brothers—and 2176 votes for the defeated Adolph Greeninger—the candidate backed by Martin, McKenzie and the bosses. The bosses didn’t want to give up power, of course, and were presented with a dilemma when Worswick arrived at City Hall to be seated as the new mayor. What happened next was described by newspaper reporter Frank Hichborn:

“Mayor-elect Worswick… proceeded to the mayor’s desk, moved up a chair, and seated himself by the outgoing executive. The clerk-elect seated himself at the clerk’s desk next to the outgoing clerk… For a dozen minutes or so, San Jose had two mayors and two city clerks. Both mayors began talking. Above the din, Worswick could be heard calling on the chief of police to throw out the out-going city clerk [and mayor]. Clearly the police chief was in a spot… [but] eventually… threw out the former mayor.”

Anatomy of a Street (Part 1)

What San Jose street is actually in two cites, has had a murder by hired assassins, has three churches and narrows at both ends?

What street had a property with a live lion patrolling the grounds in the 1930s and has a house that was once a brothel before it was moved to its present location?

What private eye living on this street was stabbed when answering his door late one night in 1974?

On what street were two neighboring families united when their children married?

On what street did author Ken Kesey (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test”) hide out when running from the police who were looking for him to arrest him on drug charges?

What street was named after a “seed king?”

What street has had many prominent San Jose citizens living there including the head of a food machinery company, lawyers, architects, college professors, doctors and engineers, alongside just plain common folk like me?

If you answered Morse Street, you were correct. A quiet, Rosegarden-area street that runs northwest from the old Singletary Estate in San Jose, Morse Street terminates in Santa Clara. The width of the last block on both ends of the street narrows by ten feet on both sides.

The street wasn’t always quiet. On April 6, 1972, two hired assassins, Mims and Rodriguez, were hiding in the bushes behind 795 Morse. When James Edward Carr exited his home to go to work one morning, the bushes exploded with seven shots, killing Carr immediately. Carr was rumored to be connected with the famous Angela Davis case then in the courts. An alert neighbor, Warren Hansen, heard the gunshots and saw two men running south down Morse Street, opposite his house. Hansen’s wife, Frenchy, heard the shotgun blasts and, seeing the men flee in their getaway car, wrote the license plate number on a popsicle wrapper, the only paper she could lay her hands on, and they notified the police. The getaway car, a black over blue Ford Fairlane LTD, was spotted in Morgan Hill later by police officer Bob Carroll on his way to work and he intercepted the assassins. Imagine his surprise when they surrendered just as he remembered that he had left his gun in the locker at Morgan Hill police station. Checking the back seat of the Ford after the arrest, Carroll found more loaded guns and a bucket containing Molotov cocktails.

There are three churches located on the street: the Calvary Methodist Church and the Quaker Meeting House, both founded in 1889, and the Center of Spiritual Enlightenment. Neither of the churches founded in 1889 are on their original sites. Prior to its founding, the house that became the Center for Spritual Enlightenment was built and occupied in the 1920s. The Center faces on to University Avenue, but the side where a lion patrolled the grounds is on Morse Street. Old time San Jose residents and historians, Frances and Theron Fox and Lawrence Campbell, remember the story well.

Dorothy Martin was a nurse at the county hospital when she became involved with a wealthy San Francisco car dealer. It seems that “John,” who lived in Woodside, put up the money for the purchase of the new house on the corner of University and Morse. Dorothy became his mistress and he would visit her often. According to Campbell, the car dealer had a different fancy car for each day of the week for his visits to his fancy lady. (Dorothy also changed her name often. According to old records and directories, she was listed as Dorothy Martin, Mrs. Dorothy Martin, Dorothea Martyn and Mrs. Martin, and on title papers for the house she is listed as a single woman.) John became alarmed that someone else might be paying attention to Dorothy, so he had a wall built around the property and installed a lion as a watchdog, or more correctly, a watchcat. The real, live African lion patrolled the grounds for quite a few years. Can you imagine living next door to a lion? I say that’s a lot of cat to protect a little . . . well, you fill in the blank!